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Bar News - June 15, 2012

Book Review: Write Like the Nationís Top Advocates By Russ Guberman


Russ Guberman is the best kind of name-dropper. His recent book, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nationís Top Advocates (2011; New York: Oxford University Press; ISBN # 978-0-19-539487-0), is chock-full of bon mots from what he considers to be some of the best briefs by 50 of the legal professionís most persuasive living advocates, including SCOTUS justices, the President, and a plethora of other "heavy-hitters."

Point Made looks at legal writing challenges with a scientistís eye and an empirical approach. The book "dissects" the work of successful advocates to learn what makes each one so special. In doing so, it arrives at solutions that are like good scientific experiments: repeatable and capable of delivering similar results.

However, Mr. Guberman has not entirely jettisoned the notion that there is also a place for "art" in the alchemical process of turning words into golden advocacy. Point Made never suggests that legal professionals should sacrifice creativity or variety in order to develop effective writing styles. Rather, it points out that writing powerfully and effectively sometimes requires finessing what one already knows about the skill. "Finessing what one already knows" means more than just observing proper grammar rules most of the time (and knowing when to break those rules other times for dramatic impact.) It also means more than "selling the sizzle" via vibrant phraseology and powerful analogies. For instance, Mr. Guberman advises writers to imagine having a dialogue with a judge, then starting each paragraph of their briefs by answering a question they expect the court to have about the dispute.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to move past formulaic catch-all connectors such as "furthermore," "moreover," or additionally"? Point Made includes 110 transition words and phrases to freshen up your writing. "Freshening up" involves more than just knowing 14 different ways to draw contrast or comparison, though. As such, the book also discusses less frequently addressed elements of style, such as appropriate typefaces and attractive formatting. For example, it recommends italicizing (rather than underlining) case names and avoiding the overuse of acronyms. IT ALSO NOTES THE DIFFICULTY IN READING CONTENT TYPED ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS. While a briefís appearance cannot compensate for inferior content, a brief that looks good is also usually one which is easier to readÖ and more likely to be grasped and retained.

Finally, says Mr. Guberman, do not make your closing only an afterthought. He points out that the freshest thing on a judgeís mind is what he or she has read most recently. After all has been said and done, what do you want the judge to remember about the dispute and why your client should prevail?

Point Made challenges the notion that a good book is one which you pick up over and over again. Part of what makes this book so good is that you may be tempted to put it down over and over again because you simply cannot wait to mimic how Morgan Chu organized eBay v. IDT or you want to copy how Miguel Estrada used pithy sentences in FCC v. Fox. Or you may just want Mr. Guberman to "hold that thought" as you recraft your pleading-in-progress, so that a judge will think when he gets to it -- to appropriate the Karl Llewellyn quote near the end of the book -- "Oh, baby; is it going to be hot." Fortunately, Point Made is written in such a manner that it also happens to be easy to peruse again the next time you want legal writing inspiration from the best of the best.

Lynne Guimond Sabean

Lynne Guimond Sabean is an associate at Boutin & Altieri, PLLC (Meredith, N.H.) A 2010 graduate of UNH-Law, she aspires to build on writing skills she learned there and eventually write like a top advocate.

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